Flat party politics, surprise party comedy

Jake Threadgould - Party
Photo: Jake Threadgould

Party by Tom Basden

Dir. Joe Fleming

The Byre, Oct 17, 8pm

* * *

Party by Tom Basden envisages a collective of overgrown children attempting to compile a political manifesto for their party. Betraying his roots in sketch comedy, Basden’s first full length stage show is unfortunately light in plot and characterisation, leaving me unsatisfied but smiling nevertheless. Not so much a play as an extended comedy sketch, the jokes come in waves of fluffy angel delight: generally gentle and inoffensive, the humour level is consistent but rarely hits turbo. This said, the humour of Party appears rather too innocent and reserved by comparison to today’s television culture where successful political sitcoms such as The Thick Of It, with its knife-in-the-back and hammer-to-the-face satire, are dominant.

The key word here is ‘appear’. The satire is so subtle that it is easily lost. The characters spend far too much time on branding their political image while policy is shoved to the bottom of the to-do list. Not enough attention, however, was paid to the characters themselves and their childish behaviour.

A further feature of the performance that made the whole affair feel like an extended sketch was the dominance of the St Andrews Revue among the cast, and while they brought their characteristic sharp eye for timing and delivery to the table, the characters were not as strong as they could have been.

Basden’s script creates a group of people so petulant and petty that they cease to be believable as adults, a blatant stab at the ineptitudes of modern politicians. This did not come across as clearly as it should, with the interaction between characters suspended in a limbo between real tension and toys-out-of-the-pram hissy fits, leaving neither extreme fully explored.

The most important, however, is: was it funny? In a word, yes. There were several stand-out moments of genuine humour that were delivered to perfection. The nervous, dim Duncan (Joe Fleming) insistence on pouring water to the very brim of each glass along with virtually everything that Shayna Layton’s Phoebe did or said was met with fits of laughter.

A cramped stage occasionally inhibited the view, but did not impede the energetic pace which the cast did well to maintain. What stopped a good show being great were the little things, or perhaps lack of them. The static feel of the staging could have been improved simply by giving more attention to detail in small movements and gestures delivered – too much focus was on the jokes and not enough on creating a dynamic. Oli Clayton, however, must be praised for his careful choice of action, marking him out as one of the stronger performers.

With a bit more work, this production could certainly hold its own in the setting that it was first performed in, the Edinburgh Fringe. Out of this context however, and slightly underdeveloped, it is a shame that the subtleties of the script were not fully discovered in this performance.


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